FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Enron Makes Case for Campaign-Finance Reform

by Senator Russell Feingold

As the Enron story unfolds, we are reminded why the U.S. Supreme Court, in its famous 1976 Buckley vs. Valeo decision, said that the appearance of corruption, not just corruption itself, justifies congressional action to place limits on our campaign-finance system.

The court understood that public mistrust of government is destructive to democracy; from a constitutional point of view, it hardly matters whether that mistrust is based on actual misconduct or simply its appearance.

Congress must address public confidence in government at this crucial time by finally passing campaign-finance reform.

In the case of Enron’s collapse, the need to address public mistrust is paramount for Congress and the Bush administration as they investigate alleged wrongdoing.

When a corporation such as Enron leaves devastated employees and fleeced shareholders in its wake, the public depends on Congress and the administration to determine what went wrong and defend the public interest.

But the potential for a conflict of interest is clear.

Many of the elected officials now asked to sit in judgment of Enron, including members of Congress, the attorney general and the president, have been accepting and even asking for campaign contributions from Enron for years.

The political parties have pocketed more than $3.5 million in unregulated, unlimited soft money from Enron since 1991.

Congress must move forward with the investigations into Enron’s conduct, despite the potential conflict of interest that political contributions might pose.

In fact, this is familiar territory for Congress. Everyday, members of Congress accept huge campaign contributions with one hand, and vote on issues affecting their contributors with the other. And everyday, the public naturally questions whether their representatives are giving special treatment to the wealthy interests that fund their campaigns and bankroll their political parties.

In the case of the Enron investigations, each member of Congress must decide whether simply donating Enron contributions to charity or even recusal is the appropriate way to attempt to address public skepticism.

Enron deftly used the campaign-finance system to its advantage long before the story of its collapse made its political contributions so well known. Enron’s executives had a hot line to government leaders shaping energy policy, and even reportedly were assisted by high government officials with a debt owed to Enron by the government of India.

The Enron scandal illustrates the permanent conflict of interest that political contributions — especially unlimited soft money contributions to the parties — have created for elected officials at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the case of soft money, both parties have gladly accepted money from officials at Enron and the auditing firm of Arthur Andersen. Those soft money contributions compromise the integrity of members of both parties as inquiries into these corporations’ conduct get under way.

Attorney General John Ashcroft’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation is confirmation of this deep conflict of interest. The Bush administration must take every step possible to remove the appearance of a conflict in all aspects of this case, and if evidence of impropriety by any high-ranking official arises, it should immediately appoint a special counsel.

But however hard Congress and the administration might work to maintain the integrity of the investigations into Enron’s actions, they are hindered from the start by the staggering sums of money Enron poured into the political system.

We are just beginning to understand the depth of the accounting and financial scandals Enron and Arthur Andersen have set in motion, and it will take time to decide how Congress should work to prevent similar problems in the future.

But we don’t need months to decide how to address the potential conflict of interest that unlimited political contributions create for members of Congress and presidential administrations. The Senate passed the McCain-Feingold bill to eliminate the soft money system last April, and the House is poised to debate its counterpart, the Shays-Meehan bill.

While eliminating soft money will not cure the campaign-finance system of every ill, it will end a system of unlimited donations that has blatantly put political access and influence up for sale.

Enron is just one of the many corporations, unions and wealthy individuals that has exploited the soft-money loophole to buy influence with Congress and the executive branch at the very highest levels.

While Enron’s demise has highlighted some of the worst failings of government, perhaps it can also, ironically, restore some faith in government by affecting real change.

One of the first things that can be done is to shut down the soft-money system. Both Congress and the Bush administration should take seriously the public’s concern about their potential conflict of interest.

By passing campaign-finance reform, they can begin to regain some of the public’s trust.

Russ Feingold is a Wisconsin Democrat. He and Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, are sponsoring legislation that would ban soft money.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail